Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Syria's Ancient Treasures Pulverised and Plundered


Reports from Syrian archeologists and from Western specialists in bronze age and Roman cities indicate increasing damage to the archaeological heritage of Syria caused by the civil war there. Monuments have been destroyed, sites and museums looted, architectural elements and sculptures carried off, writes Robert Fisk for the Independent today. We learn of the:
looting of the magnificent Roman mosaics of Apamea, where thieves have used bulldozers to rip up Roman floors and transport them from the site. Incredibly, they have managed to take two giant capit[a]ls from atop the colonnade of the "decumanus", the main east-west Roman road in the city. In many cases, armed rebels have sought sanctuary behind the thick walls of ancient castles only to find that the Syrian military have not hesitated to blast away at these historical buildings to destroy their enemies. 
Fisk quotes Lebanese archaeologist Joanne Farchakh, "The situation of Syria's heritage today is catastrophic":
Now the Homs museum has been looted – by rebels and by government militias, who knows? – and antique dealers are telling me that the markets of Jordan and Turkey are flooded with artifacts from Syria." 
Farchakh reports new information from the second millennium BC sites in which looters have dug huge holes, metres wide, to unearth the treasures of pre-history.
Syrian authorities have admitted thefts at some of the 25 provincial museums holding archaeological material at Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Maarat al-Numan and Qalaat Jaabar, while other museums have had the more important portable items removed for safe-keeping to bank vaults (as is the case with the Aleppo museum). Readers may recall that back in July last year Syria's Prime Minister, Adel Safar, wrote to fellow ministers on 11 July last year warning that "the country is threatened by armed criminal groups with hi-tech tools and specialised in the theft of manuscripts and antiquities, as well as the pillaging of museums". Fisk comments on this:
The archaeologists find this note "very odd" because it appears to warn of looting which had not yet occurred – and thus suggests that officials in the regime might be preparing the way for their own private theft and re-sale of the country's heritage, something which did indeed occur under President Assad's father Hafez al-Assad. So the looting and destruction lies at the door of all sides in the Syrian conflict, along with the thieves who move in on all historic sites when the security of the state evaporates. In truth, Syria has always suffered – and the regime always tolerated – a limited amount of theft from historical sites, to boost the economy in the poor areas in the north of the country and to enrich the regime's own mafiosi. But what is happening now is on an epic and terrifying scale.
Fisk goes on to catalogue examples of catastrophic damage to heritage in times of conflict and as part of 'ethnic cleansing'  pointing out that what is happening in Syria is not an exception:
This is why it is so important to have an inventory of the treasures of national museums and ancient cities. Emma Cunliffe, a PhD researcher at Durham University, published the first detailed account of the state of Syrian archeological sites in her Damage to the Soul of Syria: Syria's Cultural Heritage in Conflict, listing the causes of destruction, the use of sites as military positions and what can only be called merciless looting. Much of her work has informed the studies of archaeologists like Farchakh. 
I would add that in addition to mere inventories, what is needed is contingency plans to secure vulnerable elements.

Robert Fisk, 'Syria's ancient treasures pulverised'  Independent, August 8, 2012

UPDATE 12.09.12
There's some similar material in a later "Time" article on this subject:
Aryn Baker and Majdal Anjar, 'Syria’s Looted Past: How Ancient Artifacts Are Being Traded for Guns',  Time September 12, 2012

Vignette: Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly

1 comment:

Damien Huffer said...

Horrid! History repeating itself again...

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.